Trends and how to avoid them…

There was a news report this morning that the number of pedestrians being struck and killed by vehicles is on the rise in America. Frankly I’m not sure anyone should be surprised by this. I drive a 40 mile round trip four days a week and I keep my eyes open for most of that trip. If you’re paying attention, the things you see from behind the wheel of your vehicle might almost be alarming if they weren’t such common occurrences.

The number of pedestrians who roam the roads in the pre-dawn darkness while wearing dark colored clothing is, frankly, a bit staggering. I see at least one and often several of them each morning as they skitter across a four lane divided highway. Sometimes they’re at least doing it at a relatively well lit intersection. Other times they’re crossing without the benefit of light or, seemingly, any concern that there could be a large, heavy, projectile approaching them at a high rate of speed. Sometimes if it’s really dark, you can see the phone in their hand long before you can see that the phone is attached to a person. Personally, if I were schlepping long such a heavily traveled roadway on foot, I’d want to have strobes, reflectors, and perhaps a 1930’s style searchlight broadcasting my location.  I may be slowly eating myself into the grave, but my instinct to preserve myself against such poorly matched contests as those between cars and people is strong.

I see more than just the pedestrians, of course. I see the drivers too – especially the ones who are distracted or entitled or in some way think of the highway as their exclusive preserve. In many ways they seem just as oblivious to their surroundings as their counterparts afoot. My driving record will show you that I’m not without sin as a driver, but I do consciously try to be aware. Admittedly, it’s much easier to focus when driving a manual transmission in my experience. I’ve found that you’re less apt to partake in extraneous activities when one hand is busy steering and the other is grinding through the gears.

Now I’m not a fancy pants big city scientist or demographer or statistician, but common sense seems to tell me that as there are more people in the country, more of them will be walking and more of them will be driving and the chances of those two activities intersecting at some point would also increase. That is to say it would increase naturally in the absence of some concerted measures to offset it. I guess in a pinch you could pass a bevy of new laws calling on people not to be stupid and limiting the amount of allowed asshattery, but as a country we don’t have a particularly strong track record of controlling for either one of those factors.

My guess is this is a trend that’s going to continue indefinitely into the future. In the absence of people acting like they have even the smallest shred of common sense, I think the safest place to be during human and vehicle interface will continue to be behind the wheel. There, even if stupid does happen, I’ve got a more of a fighting chance than the family of three who unintentionally have themselves installed as human hood ornaments. 

Accessorizing…

With temperatures creeping up out of the 50s on a regular basis, it seems it’s the time of year when a boy’s thoughts turn to finding just the right accessories for his fancy new Jeep. At least that’s the kind of thing that catches this boy’s attention. I know my priorities can be a little jenky, but I just go with it. It’s easier that way.

To tell you I’m ready to strip off the top, unbolt the doors, and recapture a bit of the olden days is a rank understatement. I’ve been ready to do that pretty much since the day I sold the old Jeep, so it’s been a long time coming. And yes, before anyone asks, in all likelihood I’ll be the dumbass that has to wear a winter coat on the morning commute for the privilege of enjoying open tub driving on those first good warm spring afternoons. Mercifully I’ve never let fear of looking like a dufus stand in the way of doing what I wanted to do.

I was fortunate to get a few of my accessories early as Christmas presents or thanks to post-Christmas sales. I ordered a few more today – including a good set of bolt-on mirrors so I can stay on the right side of Johnny Law here in the Democratic People’s Republic of Maryland. Mostly it’s now a matter of waiting on the arrival of consistent weather to “summerize” my ride for the year.

There are still plenty of bits I want to add… a stereo capable of overpowering the wind noise without distorting everything to hell and back, some secure storage for those times when you can’t avoid leaving things behind, bigger tires and a touch of a lift to make it a proper mall crawler. Like most of my other lists, this one is just about endless… and for once that isn’t a complaint.

Birth of the (not) cool…

Sunday night I saw an advertisement for the Chrysler Pacifica siting its onboard vacuum cleaner as a feature… as if a shop vac or a stop over at the neighborhood carwash is just too hard to figure out. But fine, if people don’t have enough appliances in their homes and need to start carrying them in their cars full time too, I’m not going to judge. Well, I am going to judge, but I’ll do it quietly at least.

Add to that advertisement the several social media posts I’ve seen singing the praises of minivans as the new “cool,” all I can do really is shake my head and disbelief. A 68 Chevelle is cool. A 59 Caddy with its enormous fins is cool. A McLaren P1 is cool. Anything rolling out of the shed at Koenigsegg is, by definition, cool. See where I’m going with this yet?

I get that people drive minivans for very good reasons. They’re excellent at what they were designed to be – small, personally owned busses. People carriers. Chances are you bought one because it was very good at what it was designed to do. That’s the same reason I drive a full sized pick up truck instead of a 137 pound Smart Car.

What I didn’t do was buy a pickup truck and then try to justify myself as now driving a cool car. I bought a truck because I have two dogs that occasionally get filthy and from time to time I have the need to haul large or awkwardly shaped things from Point A to Point B. I didn’t buy the truck because it was cool any more than you minivan drivers bought your ride because of its cool factor. I bought it because it was vehicle that would get the job done.

If you’re driving a minivan, embrace it for what it is. Celebrate its capability. But for the love of Pete can we all agree to stop pretending that it is any way “cool?”

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Gas pump parking. I was pulling in to the gas pump at one of the 8,743 local convenience stores when an alleged person pulled in to the next pump over. The driver, his wife (or girlfriend, baby momma – who the hell knows), and a gaggle of kids pile out of the car; all in their pajamas and head into the grab-n-go. Figuring at least one of them was going to go put a $20 down to pay for gas, I didn’t think anything of it, until they came schlepping back out with their fists full of candy, big gulps, and chips, loaded back into their car and drove off. I missed the memo where parking at the pump to go grab a snack for you and your brood while people are lined up waiting for fuel on a busy Saturday morning is now a thing. If you’re really too lazy to walk the extra twenty feet from the actual parking spots at the side of the store, maybe you should just go ahead and stay home as to not tax your system unnecessarily. Fuckwit.

2. Bikers. The Thomas J. Hatem Bridge is a 4-lane span that carries 7,624 feet of east and westbound US Route 40 over the mighty Susquehanna River. Its lanes are 12 feet wide with a 1 foot shoulder. During peak traffic times, the bridge is a major bottle neck in traffic traveling to or from Cecil County and points east. On July 1st the powers that be in this great state of Maryland have decided that it’s a good idea to add bicycles to the mix by permitting them to use the bridge in the same lanes as motorized traffic. Now you can spout to me all day long about cyclist’s right to use public roads and that motorists have to be aware of their surroundings and give way, but the whole idea sounds ill advised to me. Putting a bicyclist on the same narrow span as tractor trailers and tens of thousands of rush hour passenger vehicles sounds more like a recipe for needing to hose some intrepid former bicyclist off the bridge than anything else. I’m sure lots of very nice people ride bicycles for fun and profit and I’ll feel vaguely sorry when one of them gets turned to goo on the bridge, but mostly what I’ll be is annoyed that their mangled corpse caused me to get home two hours later than usual.

3. Cecil County Government. The Cecil County Executive announced this week that the local animal shelter, currently operated under contract to a third party as a no-kill facility will be reincorporated as an arm of county government that will have a “no kill philosophy,” but not operate as a no-kill shelter. The translation here is that instead focusing efforts on working with local non-profits, other shelters, and concerned citizens, the shelter will hold animals for the minimum legal time and then begin euthanizing them when they “time out” if there is no extra capacity at the shelter. Here’s the thing, most shelters nationwide will tell you one story: there’s never extra space, but somehow many no kill facilities make it work. The government of Cecil County is in the midst of failing their citizens and their animals. Bringing back the “high kill” mentality to local animal control is the wrong answer. It’s fortuitous, at least, that this douchebaggery was announced during election season because it will certainly influence who has my support at the ballot box.

Emissions Inspection…

One of the things that apparently changed here in the great state of Maryland while I was gone is a requirement for a regular vehicle emissions test. Since I’ve never seen a smoggy day here in Cecil County, I’ll assume that little gem and its $14 fee is one of the governor’s non-tax taxes. I’m not even going to go into the general ridiculousness of needing to get an emissions test on a vehicle that passed the invasive state vehicle inspection less than a year ago and that’s only 2 years old with less than 40,000 miles on it to begin with. I’d honestly feel better about it if the MVA would just send me a letter saying send us $14 or we’re going to suspend your license. Admitting that the state wants money for nothing would at least be honest, but that’s probably too much to expect when it’s so easy to just give the illusion of doing something productive. According to the print out, I’m good now through August of 2014, or until they decide they need to look at some other pointless thing and bill me $20 for the privilege.

4 hours…

I took four hours off tomorrow afternoon. Normally that’s good enough reason for celebration, but in this case it’s time dedicated to hanging out with the fine men and women of the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration. Come on… The filling out forms. The taking bad pictures. The standing in line. The standing in another line. The filling out more forms. And finally forking over a fistful of cash. That sounds like some real kicks on a Friday afternoon, right? If this goes as smoothly as everything else involved with this move, it should be finished with everything sometime next Tuesday. With the stack of paperwork I’m taking with me, I think I have all the bases covered… Which practically guarantees things will go horribly wrong in a new and interesting variety of ways.

Safer…

As part of the mind-numbing process of restoring my status as a citizen of the great State of Maryland, my one year old truck was subjected to a vigorous “safety inspection.” I can’t be the only person that things this is probably overkill for a truck that rolled off the assembly line less than 12 months ago, right? But still, a “senior tech” poked prodded, scanned, and test drove my ride to make sure it was fit for service on the roads. Personally, I assumed that as long as it could roll through the toll booth, Maryland would welcome it. Apparently that was wildly optimistic. Although everything was in good working order, it seems my front window tint offended the sensibilities of the fine men and women of the Maryland General Assembly and in order to pass inspection had to be removed. Fine. Done. Give me my certificate of inspection and I’ll be on the way… and $139.00 lighter in the wallet. That and the $50 bucks its going to cost me to get the tint reapplied. I know I certainly feel safer.

So now, we’re on to the last step in the process. That would be waiting on MVA to let me know they’ve received my titled from Toyota, so I can drive over there, hand over 73 different forms of ID, give them more money to send a title back to Toyota, and walk away with a newly minted license that says I live where I live. If this process wasn’t intentionally designed to be a giant pain in the ass, there is a room full of bureaucrats somewhere in Glen Burnie who have missed their calling.